UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Conceiving abnormality Collard, Juliane


In vitro fertilization (IVF) has transformed how we understand, study, and reproduce human life, generating novel biological entities and possibilities. This dissertation takes shape around one such novelty: the abnormal IVF embryo. Over the last decade, the diagnosis of embryonic abnormality has become central to fertility science and practice. Today, over one third of IVF embryos produced in the U.S. are designated abnormal on the basis of their genetic makeup. My project delves into the complex world of these vexed biological entities, examining the apparatuses through which they come into being and through which they are variably stripped of and imbued with value. Drawing on feminist and crip theory, feminist political economy, science and technology studies, and my own multi-site, multi-methods research, I ask: What worlds of knowledge might be read from the abnormal embryo? The dissertation makes three main arguments. First, it determines that IVF has precipitated a respatialization of reproduction from within to outside the body. Others have examined the subsequent geographical expansion of reproductive networks. But less attention has been paid to the deepening of the capitalist and scientific interest into the biotic space inside embryos – what I term “involution”. In the context of fertility treatment, involution has catalyzed the birth of the abnormal embryo that is my interest. The designation of embryos as abnormal on the basis of their genetic makeup reflects deeply held assumptions about the healthy bodies we are supposed (to want) to have and reproduce. This is my second major argument. Understandings of abnormality are steeped in socio-cultural ideals of health, able-bodiedness, neuro-typicality, and sexual dimorphism. The fertility clinic is thus a key – and until now, overlooked – site in the discursive and material reproduction of the normal, healthy body. Finally, I argue that the reproduction of the healthy body in this context is also productive for the bioeconomy. In addition to generating profits in the fertility clinic, embryo genetic screening has created a reserve of surplus embryos seen to have no future life potential. Classified as waste in the fertility clinic, these embryos have complex and contested afterlives as valuable technoscientific objects.

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